Reported Federal 5G Plan Panned

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The wireless industry and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday panned the possibility of the U.S. government building its own 5G network. Axios reported a senior official on the National Security Council floated the idea of the federal government building one, secure, centralized 5G network to guard against China, “the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain,” states the document.

The concept is the government would reportedly rent access to wireless carriers. If so, it would be an unprecedented nationalization of a historically private infrastructure.

Pai said he opposes “any” such proposal, saying, “the main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades—including American leadership in 4G—is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.” He called an effort by the government to build its own 5G network “costly” and “counter-productive.” The other four Commissioners opposed the concept. Commissioner Brendan Carr called the idea a “non-starter” while Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said: “I’ve seen lead balloons tried in D.C. before but this is like a balloon made out of a Ford Pinto.”   

Later on Monday, Recode reported administration officials said the memo was outdated and just a concept that was floated; these officials said it was not part of an imminent policy announcement. “Right now we’re in the very earliest stages of the conversation,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday when pressed on the memo, reported The Hill. “There are absolutely no decisions made on what that would look like, what role anyone would play in it. Simply the need for a secure network.”

Nevertheless, associations made themselves clear on the subject.

“These networks have been conceived, financed and managed by private industry,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein on Monday. “In order to maintain our leadership in wireless communications at this pivotal time and to usher in new 5G technologies, we need to encourage more private investment into building out mobile networks through rational policies that affect the siting of vital wireless infrastructure.”

The administration is debating how such a network would be built and paid for, according to Axios. An alternative plan calls for the carriers building competing networks, as they plan now.

Carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have invested heavily in 5G and have trials underway. “The wireless industry agrees that winning the race to 5G is a national priority,” said CTIA President/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker. The largest wireless carriers are members. “The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.”

While most reaction was negative, the Cowen Group provided one bright spot. It stated that towercos and fiber providers could benefit from a nationalized 5G network, reported Seeking Alpha.

January 30, 2018   

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